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Biblical inerrancy is the belief that the Bible "is without error or fault in all its teaching"; or, at least, that "Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact". Some equate inerrancy with biblical infallibility; others do not. The belief is of particular significance within parts of evangelicalism, where it is formulated in the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy".
A formal statement in favor of biblical inerrancy was published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1978. The signatories to the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" admit that, "Inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture". However, even though there may be no extant original manuscripts of the Bible, those that exist can be considered inerrant, because, as the statement reads: "The autographic text of Scripture, ... in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy."
The "doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture" held by the Catholic Church, as expressed by the Second Vatican Council, is that, "The books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation."
A minority of biblical inerrantists go further than the Chicago Statement, arguing that the original text has been perfectly preserved and passed down through time. "Textus Receptus onlyism" holds that the Greek text of this name (Latin for received text) is a perfect and inspired copy of the original and supersedes earlier manuscript copies. The King James Only movement ascribes inerrancy only to the King James English translation made from the Textus Receptus.
Terms and opinions
The word inerrancy comes from the English word inerrant, from the Latin inerrantem, (parsable as in- + errantem - the accusative singular present participle of errāre - "to err" or "wander"). The Oxford English Dictionary defines inerrant as "That does not err; free from error; unerring." Another word often used[by whom?] to characterize the Bible is "infallible". From dictionary definitions, Frame (2002) insists that this is a stronger term than "inerrant". "'Inerrant' means there are no errors; 'infallible' means there can be no errors". Yet he agrees that "modern theologians insist on redefining that word also, so that it actually says less than 'inerrancy.'" Lindsell (1978) states that, "The very nature of inspiration renders the Bible infallible, which means that it cannot deceive us. It is inerrant in that it is not false, mistaken, or defective".
According to H. Chaim Schimmel, Judaism had never promulgated a belief in the literal word of the Hebrew Bible, hence the co-existence of the Oral Torah. Within Christianity, some mainstream Evangelical and Protestant groups adhere to the inerrancy of the canon of scripture as it reads today. However, the Encyclopædia Britannica says that "Evangelical scholars ... doubt that accepting the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is the best way to assert their belief in biblical authority".
The Second Vatican Council authoritatively expressed the Catholic Church's view on Biblical inerrancy. Citing earlier declarations, it stated: "Since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." The Council added: "Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words."
Some literalist or conservative Christians teach that the Bible lacks error in every way in all matters: chronology, history, biology, sociology, psychology, politics, physics, math, art, and so on. Other Christians believe that the scriptures are always right (do not err) only in fulfilling their primary purpose: revealing God, God's vision, God's purposes, and God's good news to humanity.
Some Judaic and Christian traditions hold that Moses — rather than God himself — physically wrote the Torah or Pentateuch of the Hebrew Bible, although in the process of transcription many thousands of times copyists have allowed errors, or (some suggest) even forgeries in the text to accumulate. According to this position, God originally spoke through a select person to reveal his purpose, character and plan for humanity. However, the Bible does record some direct statements from God (i.e.,"Thus says the Lord...", "And God said...", etc.). The significance of most phrases, their parts, grammar, and occasionally individual words, letters and even pronunciation in the Hebrew Bible are the subject of many rabbinic discussions in the Talmud.
The first formulations of the doctrine of inerrancy had not been established according to the authority of a council, creed, or church, until the post-Reformation period. Origen of Alexandria thought there were minor discrepancies between the accounts of the Gospels but dismissed them due to their lack of theological importance, writing "let these four [Gospels] agree with each other concerning certain things revealed to them by the Spirit and let them disagree a little concerning other things" (Commentary on John 10.4). Later, John Chrysostom was also unconcerned with the notion that the scriptures were in congruence with all matters of history unimportant to matters of faith.
But if there be anything touching time or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said … [but those things] which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little (Homily on Matthew 1.6)
In his Commentary on Galatians, Jerome also argued that Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 for acting like a Jew around the Jewish faction of the early Church was an insincere "white lie" as Paul himself had done the same thing. In response, Augustine rebuked Jerome's interpretation and affirmed that the scriptures contained no mistakes in them, and that admitting a single mistake would shed doubt on the entire scripture.
It seems to me that the most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. . . . If you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement ... there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to any one difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which, intentionally, . . . the author declared what was not true (Letters of St Augustine 28.3).
For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of in truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason (Letters of St Augustine 82.3).
By the time of the Reformation, there was still no official doctrine of inerrancy. For Martin Luther (1483–1546), for example, "inspiration did not insure inerrancy in all details. Luther recognizes mistakes and inconsistencies in Scripture and treated them with lofty indifference because they did not touch the heart of the Gospel." When Matthew appears to confuse Jeremiah with Zechariah in Matt. 27:9, Luther wrote that "Such points do not bother me particularly." The Christian humanist and one of the leading scholars of the northern Renaissance, Erasmus (1466–1536), was also unconcerned with minor errors not impacting theology, and at one point, thought that Matthew mistook one word for another. In a letter to Johannes Eck, Erasmus wrote that “Nor, in my view, would the authority of the whole of Scripture be instantly imperiled, as you suggest, if an evangelist by a slip of memory did put one name for another, Isaiah for instance instead of Jeremiah, for this is not a point on which anything turns.” The same point of view held true for John Calvin (1509–1564), who wrote that "It is well known that the Evangelists were not very concerned with observing the time sequences." The doctrine of inerrancy, however, began to develop as a response to these Protestant attitudes. Whereas the Council of Trent only held that the Bible's authority was "in matters of faith and morales", the Jesuit and cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) argued in his 1586 De verbo Dei, the first volume of his multi-volume Disputationes de controversiis christianae fidei adversus hujus temporis haereticos that "There can be no error in Scripture, whether it deals with faith or whether it deals with morals/mores, or whether it states something general and common to the whole Church, or something particular and pertaining to only one person." Bellarmine's views were extremely important in his condemnation of Galileo and Catholic-Protestant debate, as the Protestant response was to also affirm his heightened understanding of inerrancy.
During the 18th and 19th centuries and in the aftermath of the Enlightenment critique of religion, various episodes of the Bible (for example the Noahide worldwide flood, the creation in six days, and the creation of women from a man's rib) began increasingly to be seen as legendary rather than as literally true. This led to further questioning of the veracity of biblical texts. According to an article in Theology Today published in 1975, "There have been long periods in the history of the church when biblical inerrancy has not been a critical question. It has in fact been noted that only in the last two centuries can we legitimately speak of a formal doctrine of inerrancy. The arguments pro and con have filled many books, and almost anyone can join in the debate".
In the 1970s and 1980s, however, the debate in theological circles, which centered on the issue of whether or not the Bible was infallible or both infallible and inerrant, came into the spotlight. Some notable Christian seminaries, such as Princeton Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary, were formally adopting the doctrine of infallibility while rejecting the doctrine of inerrancy. Fuller, for instance, explains:
Where inerrancy refers to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the churches through the biblical writers, we support its use. Where the focus switches to an undue emphasis on matters like chronological details, precise sequence of events, and numerical allusions, we would consider the term misleading and inappropriate.
The other side of this debate focused largely around the magazine Christianity Today and the book entitled The Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell. The author asserted that losing the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture was the thread that would unravel the church and Conservative Christians rallied behind this idea.
This was among the controversies during the Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence; ultimately the SBC adopted the position that the Bible is both inerrant and infallible as outlined in their 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message.
Inerrancy in autographic texts and modern versions
Those who hold the inerrancy of the Bible do not all agree as to whether inerrancy refers to modern Bibles or only to the original, autographic texts. There are also disagreements about whether, because the autographic texts no longer survive, modern texts can be said to be inerrant. Article X of the Chicago statement agrees that the inspiration for the words of the Bible can only strictly be applied to the autographs. However, the same article asserts that the original text "can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy", so that the lack of the originals does not affect the claim of biblical inerrancy of such recovered, modern texts. Robert Saucy, for instance, reports that writers have argued that "99 percent of the original words in the New Testament are recoverable with a high degree of certainty."
Textual tradition of the New Testament
There are over 5,600 Greek manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament, as well as over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and perhaps 500 other manuscripts of various other languages. Additionally, there are the Patristic writings, which contain copious quotes from across the early centuries of the scriptures.
Most of these manuscripts date to the Middle Ages. The oldest complete copy of the New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus, which includes two other books not now included in the accepted NT canon, dates to the 4th century. The earliest fragment of a New Testament book is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52 which dates from 125–175 AD, recent research pointing to a date nearer to 200 AD. It has the size of a business card. Very early manuscripts are rare.
The average NT manuscript is about 200 pages, and in all, there are about 1.3 million pages of text. No two manuscripts are identical, except in the smallest fragments, and the many manuscripts that preserve New Testament texts differ among themselves in many respects, with some estimates of 200,000 to 300,000 differences among the various manuscripts. According to Bart Ehrman:
Most changes are careless errors that are easily recognized and corrected. Christian scribes often made mistakes simply because they were tired or inattentive or, sometimes, inept. Indeed, the single most common mistake in our manuscripts involves "orthography", significant for little more than showing that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most of us can today. In addition, we have numerous manuscripts in which scribes have left out entire words, verses, or even pages of a book, presumably by accident. Sometimes scribes rearranged the words on the page, for example, by leaving out a word and then reinserting it later in the sentence.
In the 2008 Greer-Heard debate series, New Testament scholars Bart Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace discussed these variances in detail. Wallace mentioned that understanding the meaning of the number of variances is not as simple as looking at the number of variances, but one must consider also the number of manuscripts, the types of errors, and among the more serious discrepancies, what impact they do or do not have.
For hundreds of years, biblical and textual scholars have examined the manuscripts extensively. Since the eighteenth century, they have employed the techniques of textual criticism to reconstruct how the extant manuscripts of the New Testament texts might have descended, and to recover earlier recensions of the texts. However, King James Version (KJV)-only inerrantists often prefer the traditional texts (i.e., Textus Receptus, which is the basis of KJV) used in their churches to modern attempts of reconstruction (i.e., Nestle-Aland Greek Text, which is the basis of modern translations), arguing that the Holy Spirit is just as active in the preservation of the scriptures as in their creation.
KJV-only inerrantist Jack Moorman says that at least 356 doctrinal passages are affected by the differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland Greek Text.
Some familiar examples of Gospel passages in the Textus Receptus thought to have been added by later interpolaters and omitted in the Nestle Aland Greek Text include the Pericope Adulteræ,[Jn 7:53–8:11] the Comma Johanneum,[1 Jn 5:7–8] and the longer ending in Mark 16.[Mk 16:9–20]
Evangelical Christians generally accept the findings of textual criticism, and nearly all modern translations, including the New Testament of the New International Version, are based on "the widely accepted principles of ... textual criticism".
Since textual criticism suggests that the manuscript copies are not perfect, strict inerrancy is only applied to the original autographs (the manuscripts written by the original authors) rather than the copies. However, challenging this view, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem writes:
For most practical purposes, then, the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts. Thus, when we say that the original manuscripts were inerrant, we are also implying that over 99 percent of the words in our present manuscripts are also inerrant, for they are exact copies of the originals.
The "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" says, "We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture". However, it also reads: "We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant."
Less commonly, more conservative views are held by some groups.
A minority of biblical inerrantists go further than the Chicago Statement, arguing that the original text has been perfectly preserved and passed down through time. This is sometimes called `Textus Receptus Onlyism`, as it is believed the Greek text by this name (Latin for received text) is a perfect and inspired copy of the original and supersedes earlier manuscript copies. This position is based on the idea that only the original language God spoke in is inspired, and that God was pleased to preserve that text throughout history by the hands of various scribes and copyists. Thus the Textus Receptus acts as the inerrant source text for translations to modern languages. For example, in Spanish-speaking cultures the commonly accepted "KJV-equivalent" is the Reina-Valera 1909 revision (with different groups accepting, in addition to the 1909 or in its place, the revisions of 1862 or 1960). The New King James Version was also translated from the Textus Receptus.
King James Only inerrantists
A faction of those in the "King James Only movement" rejects the whole discipline of textual criticism and holds that the translators of the King James Version English Bible were guided by God and that the KJV thus is to be taken as the authoritative English Bible. One of its most vocal, prominent and thorough proponents was Peter Ruckman, whose followers were generally known as Ruckmanites. He was generally considered to hold the most extreme form of this position.
A number of reasons are offered by Christian theologians to justify biblical inerrancy. Norman Geisler and William Nix (1986) say that scriptural inerrancy is established by a number of observations and processes, which include:
- The historical accuracy of the Bible
- The Bible's claims of its own inerrancy
- Church history and tradition
- One's individual experience with God
Louis Markos wrote:
I feel great pity for Bart Ehrman. It appears that the kind of fundamentalism in which the Christian believer turned biblical debunker was raised did not prepare him for the challenges he would face in college. He was taught, rightly, that there are no contradictions in the Bible, but he was trained, quite falsely, to interpret the non-contradictory nature of the Bible in modern, scientific, post-Enlightenment terms. That is to say, he was encouraged to test the truth of the Bible against a verification system that has only existed for some 250 years.
The first deductive justification is that the Bible says it is inspired by God (for instance "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness"[2 Tim 3:16]) and because God is perfect, the Bible must also be perfect and, hence, free from error. For instance, the statement of faith of the Evangelical Theological Society says, "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs".
Supportive of this is the idea that God cannot lie. W. J. Mcrea writes:
The Bible then makes two basic claims: it asserts unequivocally that God cannot lie and that the Bible is the Word of God. It is primarily from a combination of these facts that the argument for inerrancy comes.
And Grenz has:
Because God cannot lie and because scripture is inspired by God, the Bible must be wholly true. This syllogism may be valid for establishing inerrancy, but it cannot define the concept.
Also, from Geisler:
Those who defend inerrancy are deductivists pure and simple. They begin with certain assumptions about God and the scriptures, namely, that God cannot lie and the scriptures are the Word of God. From these assumptions, inerrantists deduce that the Bible is without error.
A second reason offered is that Jesus and the apostles used the Old Testament in a way that assumes it is inerrant. For instance, in Galatians 3:16, Paul bases his argument on the fact that the word "seed" in the Genesis reference to "Abraham and his seed" is singular rather than plural. This (as stated) sets a precedent for inerrant interpretation down to the individual letters of the words.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds", as (referring) to many, but (rather) to one, "And to your seed", that is, Christ.[Gal 3:16]
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Although in these verses, Jesus and the apostles are only referring to the Old Testament, the argument is considered by some to extend to the New Testament writings, because 2 Peter 3:16 accords the status of scripture to New Testament writings also: "He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters...which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other scriptures".[2 Pet. 3:16]
In his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Warfield lays out an argument for inerrancy that has been virtually ignored by today's evangelicals. Essentially, he makes a case for inerrancy on the basis of inductive evidence, rather than deductive reasoning. Most evangelicals today follow E. J. Young's deductive approach toward bibliology, forgetting the great articulator of inerrancy. But Warfield starts with the evidence that the Bible is a historical document, rather than with the presupposition that it is inspired.
In the Nicene Creed Christians confess their belief that the Holy Spirit "has spoken through the prophets". This creed has been normative for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans and all mainline Protestant denominations except for those descended from the non-credal Stone-Campbell movement. As stated by Alister E. McGrath, "An important element in any discussion of the manner in which scripture is inspired, and the significance which is attached to this, is 2 Timothy 3:16–17, which speaks of scripture as 'God-breathed' (theopneustos)". According to McGrath, "the reformers did not see the issue of inspiration as linked with the absolute historical reliability or factual inerrancy of the biblical texts". He says, "The development of ideas of 'biblical infallibility' or 'inerrancy' within Protestantism can be traced to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century".
People who believe in inerrancy think that the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but every word of it is, because of verbal inspiration, the direct, immediate word of God. The Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession identifies Holy Scripture with the Word of God and calls the Holy Spirit the author of the Bible. Because of this, Lutherans confess in the Formula of Concord, "we receive and embrace with our whole heart the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel". Lutherans (and other Protestants) believe apocryphal books are neither inspired nor written by prophets, and that they contain errors and were never included in the "Palestinian Canon" that Jesus and the Apostles are said to have used, and therefore are not a part of Holy Scripture. The prophetic and apostolic scriptures are authentic as written by the prophets and apostles. A correct translation of their writings is God's Word because it has the same meaning as the original Hebrew and Greek. A mistranslation is not God's word, and no human authority can invest it with divine authority.
However, the 19th century Anglican biblical scholar S. R. Driver held a contrary view, saying that, "as inspiration does not suppress the individuality of the biblical writers, so it does not altogether neutralise their human infirmities or confer upon them immunity from error". Similarly, J. K. Mozley, an early 20th-century Anglican theologian has argued:
That the Bible is inspired is, indeed, a primary Christian conviction; it is from this that certain consequences have been drawn, such as infallibility and inerrancy, which retain their place in Christian thought because they are held to be bound up with the affirmation of inspiration. But the deductions can be rejected without any ambiguity as to the fact of inspiration. Neither 'fundamentalists' nor sceptics are to be followed at this point... the Bible is inspired because it is the adequate and indispensable vehicle of revelation; but inspiration does not amount to dictation by God.
For a believer in biblical inerrancy, Holy Scripture is the Word of God, and carries the full authority of God. Every single statement of the Bible calls for instant and unqualified acceptance. Every doctrine of the Bible is the teaching of God and therefore requires full agreement. Every promise of the Bible calls for unshakable trust in its fulfillment. Every command of the Bible is the directive of God himself and therefore demands willing observance.
According to some believers, the Bible contains everything that they need to know to obtain salvation and live a Christian life, and there are no deficiencies in scripture that need to be filled with tradition, pronouncements of the Pope, new revelations, or present-day development of doctrine.
Harold Lindsell points out that it is a "gross distortion" to state that people who believe in inerrancy suppose every statement made in the Bible is true (as opposed to accurate). He says there are expressly false statements in the Bible, but they are reported accurately. He notes that "All the Bible does, for example in the case of Satan, is to report what Satan actually said. Whether what he said was true or false is another matter. Christ stated that the devil is a liar".
Many who believe in the inspiration of scripture teach that it is infallible but not inerrant. Those who subscribe to infallibility believe that what the scriptures say regarding matters of faith and Christian practice are wholly useful and true. Some denominations that teach infallibility hold that the historical or scientific details, which may be irrelevant to matters of faith and Christian practice, may contain errors. Those who believe in inerrancy hold that the scientific, geographic, and historic details of the scriptural texts in their original manuscripts are completely true and without error, though the scientific claims of scripture must be interpreted in the light of its phenomenological nature, not just with strict, clinical literality, which was foreign to historical narratives.
Proponents of biblical inerrancy generally do not teach that the Bible was dictated directly by God, but that God used the "distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers" of scripture and that God's inspiration guided them to flawlessly project his message through their own language and personality.
Infallibility and inerrancy refer to the original texts of the Bible. Scholars who are proponents of biblical inerrancy acknowledge the potential for human error in transmission and translation, and therefore only affirm as the Word of God translations that "faithfully represent the original".
Metaphor and literalism
Even if the bible is inerrant, it may need to be interpreted to distinguish between what statements are metaphorical, and which are literally true. Jeffrey Russell writes that "Metaphor is a valid way to interpret reality. The 'literal' meaning of words – which I call the overt reading – is insufficient for understanding reality because it never exhausts reality." He adds:
Originating in Evangelicalism, the Fundamentalists affirmed that the Bible is to be read "literally" or overtly, leading some to reject not only physicalist evolution but even evolution science and to deny that life developed over billions of years. Evangelicals tended to believe in the "inerrancy" of the Bible (though they defined that term variously), a view that sometimes could unhelpfully turn the Bible into an authority on science and history.
Proponents of biblical inerrancy often cite 2 Timothy 3:16 as evidence that scripture is inerrant. For this argument, they prefer translations that render the verse as "All scripture is given by inspiration of God," and they interpret this to mean that the whole Bible must therefore be inerrant. However, critics of this doctrine think that the Bible makes no direct claim to be inerrant or infallible. C. H. Dodd argues the same sentence can also be translated "Every inspired scripture is also useful", nor does the verse define the Biblical canon to which "scripture" refers. In addition, Michael T. Griffith, the Mormon apologist, writes:
Nowhere within its pages does the Bible teach or logically imply the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. [Concerning] 2 Timothy 3:16 ... this passage merely says that "all scripture" is profitable for doctrine, reproof, etc. It says nothing about scripture being "perfect", or "inerrant", or "infallible", or "all-sufficient". If anything, Paul's words constitute a refutation of the idea of scriptural inerrancy ... What it does say is that scripture is useful, profitable, for the needs of the pastoral ministry. The only "holy scriptures" Timothy could have known from childhood were the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament. And yet, would any Christian assert that in Paul's view the Old Testament was the final and complete word of God to man? Of course not. In any event, verse 15 makes it clear that in speaking of "all scripture" Paul was referring to the Jewish scriptures and perhaps to some of his own epistles. The New Testament as we know it simply did not exist yet. Furthermore, it is fairly certain that Paul's canon included some Jewish scriptures no longer found in the Old Testament, such as the book of Enoch.
The Catholic New Jerusalem Bible also has a note that this passage refers only to the Old Testament writings understood to be scripture at the time it was written. Furthermore, the Catholic Veritas Bible website says that "Rather than characterizing the Old Testament scriptures as required reading, Paul is simply promoting them as something useful or advantageous to learn. ... it falls far short of a salvational requirement or theological system. Moreover, the four purposes (to teach, correct, etc.) for which scripture is declared to be 'profitable' are solely the functions of the ministry. After all, Paul is addressing one of his new bishops (the 'man of God'). Not a word addresses the use of scripture by the laity." Another note in the Bible suggests that there are indications that Paul's writings were being considered, at least by the author of the Second Epistle of Peter,[2 Pet 3:16] as comparable to the Old Testament.
The view that biblical inerrancy can be justified by an appeal to prooftexts that refer to its divine inspiration has been criticized as circular reasoning, because these statements are only considered to be true if the Bible is already thought to be inerrant.
In the introduction to his book Credible Christianity, Anglican Bishop Hugh Montefiore, comments:
The doctrine of biblical inerrancy seems inherently improbable, for two reasons. Firstly, the Scriptures contain what seem to be evident errors and contradictions (although great ingenuity has been applied to explain these away). Secondly, the books of the Old and New Testaments did not gain their place within the "canon", or list of approved books, as soon as they were written. The Old Testament canon was not closed until late in the Apostolic age, and the New Testament canon was not finally closed until the fourth century. If all the Bible's contents were inerrant, one would have thought that this would have become apparent within a much shorter period.
Doctrine of biblical inspiration in liberal Christianity
William John Lyons quoted William Wrede and Hermann Gunkel, who affirmed: "Like every other real science, New Testament Theology's has its goal simply in itself, and is totally indifferent to all dogma and Systematic Theology ... the spirit of historical investigation has now taken the place of a traditional doctrine of inspiration".
In general, liberal Christianity has no problem with the fact that the Bible has errors and contradictions. Liberal Christians reject the dogma of inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible, which they see as the idolatry (fetishism) of the Bible. Martin Luther emphatically declared "if our opponents allege Scripture against Christ, we allege Christ against Scripture."
Meaning of "Word of God"
Much debate over the kind of authority that should be accorded biblical texts centers on what is meant by the "Word of God". The term can refer to Christ himself as well as to the proclamation of his ministry as kerygma. However, biblical inerrancy differs from this orthodoxy in viewing the Word of God to mean the entire text of the Bible when interpreted didactically as God's teaching. The idea of the Bible itself as Word of God, as being itself God's revelation, is criticized in neo-orthodoxy. Here the Bible is seen as a unique witness to the people and deeds that do make up the Word of God. However, it is a wholly human witness. All books of the Bible were written by human beings. Thus, whether the Bible is—in whole or in part—the Word of God is not clear. However, some argue that the Bible can still be construed as the "Word of God" in the sense that these authors' statements may have been representative of, and perhaps even directly influenced by, God's own knowledge.
There is only one instance in the Bible where the phrase "the Word of God" refers to something written. The reference is to the Decalogue. However, most other references are to reported speech preserved in the Bible. The New Testament also contains a number of statements that refer to passages from the Old Testament as God's words, for instance Romans 3:2 (which says that the Jews have been "entrusted with the very words of God"), or the book of Hebrews, which often prefaces Old Testament quotations with words such as "God says". The Bible also contains words spoken by human beings about God, such as Eliphaz (Job 42:7) and the prayers and songs of the Psalter. That these are God's words addressed to us was at the root of a lively medieval controversy. The idea of the word of God is more that God is encountered in scripture, than that every line of scripture is a statement made by God.
While the phrase "the Word of God" is never applied to the modern Bible within the Bible itself, supporters of inerrancy argue that this is because the biblical canon was not closed. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, "When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God."
Translation has given rise to a number of issues, as the original languages are often quite different in grammar as well as word meaning. Some believers trust their own translation to be the accurate one. One such group of believers is known as the King James Only movement. For readability, clarity, or other reasons, translators may choose different wording or sentence structure, and some translations may choose to paraphrase passages. Because some of the words in the original language have ambiguous or difficult to translate meanings, debates over the correct interpretation occur.
Criticisms are also sometimes raised because of inconsistencies arising between different translations of the Hebrew or Greek text, as in the case of the virgin birth.
The virgin birth
One translation problem concerns the New Testament assertion that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. If the Bible were inerrant, then this would be true. However, critics have suggested that the use of the word virgin may have been merely a translation error.
Matthew 1:22–23 reads: "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'—which means, 'God with us'." Here Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah, but the Septuagint, the Greek text of the Hebrew Bible he was using, was mistaken in its translation of the word almah ("עלמה") in Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin [(almah)] shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
On this point, Browning's A Dictionary of the Bible states that in the Septuagint (dated as early as the late 2nd century BCE), "the Greek parthenos was used to translate the Hebrew almah, which means a 'young woman'". The dictionary also says that "the earliest writers of the [New Testament] (Mark and Paul) show no knowledge of such a virginal conception". Furthermore, the Encyclopedia Judaica calls this "a two-millennium misunderstanding of Isaiah 7:14", which "indicates nothing concerning the chastity of the woman in question".
Another writer, David Strauss in The Life of Jesus, writes that the question "ought to be decided by the fact that the word does not signify an immaculate, but a marriageable young woman". He suggests that Isaiah was referring to events of his own time, and that the young woman in question may have been "perhaps the prophet's own wife".
- An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture
- Biblical hermeneutics
- Biblical literalism
- Christ myth theory
- Divine providence
- Historical criticism
- John Calvin's view of Scripture
- Quranic inerrancy
- Qur'anic literalism
- Religious skepticism
- Urtext (Biblical studies)
- Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
- Geisler, NL. and Roach, B., Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation, Baker Books, 2012.
- Grudem, Wayne A. (1994). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-85110-652-6. OCLC 29952151.
- McKim, DK, Westminster dictionary of theological terms, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.
- Geisler, N. L. (ed), Inerrancy, Zondervan, 1980, p. 22. "The trouble is that such a distinction is nowhere to be found in Jesus' own teaching, and seems to be precluded by His testimony both to the unqualified historical accuracy and the inspiration of the Old Testament ... The attempt to discriminate ... seems to be a product of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries".
- "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy", Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society vol. 21 no. 4 (December 1978), 289–96.
- Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy: "Article X. We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant".
- Cardinal Augustin Bea, "Vatican II and the Truth of Sacred Scripture" Archived 2012-05-08 at the Wayback Machine
- Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation), 11 Archived May 31, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- Crisp, Oliver D. "A British Perspective on Evangelicalism". Fuller Magazine. Fuller Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on 2016-03-28. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Holmes, Stephen R. (2007). "British (and European) Evangelical Theologies". The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology. Cambridge University Press. p. 254. ISBN 9781139827508. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- "inerrant". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
- Frame, John M. "Is the Bible Inerrant?" IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 4, Number 19, May 13 to May 20, 2002 
- Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Zondervan, 1978, p. 31. ISBN 978-0-310-27681-4
- Schimmel, H. Chaim, The Oral Law: The rabbinic contribution to Torah Shebe'al Peh, 2nd, revised ed., Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1996, pp. 19–21
- Encyclopædia Britannica, "Evangelicalism".
- Dei Verbum, 12
- Norman Geisler and William Nix (1986). A General Introduction to the Bible. Moody Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-8024-2916-5.
- Robinson, B.A. "Inerrancy: Is the Bible free of error? All points of view". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2008-SEP-01. Web: 25 January 2010. Inerrancy: Is the Bible free of error?'
- Tov, Emanuel, Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Uitgeverij Van Gorcum, 2001, p. 213
- Hendel, Ronald. "The Dream of a Perfect Text: Textual Criticism and Biblical Inerrancy in Early Modern Europe," in e.d. Collins, J.J., Sibyls, Scriptures, and Scrolls: John Collins at Seventy, Brill, 2017, 517-541, esp. 524-531. On pg. 529, Hendel writes "The doctrine of uniform inerrancy in the literal sense across all details is an innovation of the Catholic-Protestant polemics after Trent."
- Cohen, Shaye J. D. The beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, varieties, uncertainties. Vol. 31. University of California Press, 1999, 368.
- Woodbridge, John. “Evangelical Self-Identity and the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy, in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century: Essays in Honor of D. A. Carson on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, Crossway, 2011, 111.
- Bainton, "The Bible in the Reformation," in e.d. Greenslade, S.L., The Cambridge History of the Bible Vol 3: The West from the Reformation to the Present, Cambridge University Press 1963, 12-13.
- Plimer, Ian (1994), Telling Lies for God: Reason vs Creationism, Random House
- Coleman, R. J. (1975). "Biblical Inerrancy: Are We Going Anywhere?". Theology Today. 31 (4): 295–303. doi:10.1177/004057367503100404. S2CID 170389190.
- "What We Believe and Teach". Fuller Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on 21 October 2017. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
- Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Zondervan, 1978. ISBN 978-0-310-27681-4
- Cowan, SB. and Wilder, TL., In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, B&H Publishing Group, 2013, p. 55.
- Saucy, R., Scripture, Thomas Nelson Inc, 2001
- The Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas
- Orsini, Pasquale and Clarysse, Willy (2012) "Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates; A Critique of Theological Palaeography", Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88/4, p. 470.
- "What is the significance of this fragment? by the University of Manchester".
- See Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, p. 219
- See Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, p. 220
- Stewart, Robert B., ed. (2011). The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-9773-0. OCLC 646121910.
- White, JR., The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?, Baker Books, 2009, p. 24.
- Moorman, Jack, Missing In Modern Bibles – Is the Full Story Being Told?, Bible for Today, 1989, 83 pages
- See e.g. The HCSB Student Bible, B&H Publishing Group, 2007, p. iv.
- Mays, James, ed. (2000). Harper Collins Bible Commentary (Revised ed.). Harper Collins. ISBN 0-06-065548-8.
- Bacote, VE., Miguélez, LC. and Okholm, DL., Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, InterVarsity Press, 2009.
- Today's new International Version: New Testament, Introduction.
- "Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-08-26. Retrieved 2010-11-15.
- Markos, Louis (27 October 2014). "Ehrman Errant". First Things. Retrieved 18 July 2019.
- My Take on Inerrancy, bible.org website
- About the ETS, Evangelical Theological Society web site
- McRea, WJ, A book to die for, Clements publishing, 2002.
- Grenz, SJ, Theology for the community of God, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000
- Geisler, Norman L. (1980). Inerrancy. Zondervan. p. 271. ISBN 978-0-310-39281-1.
- "Bible, Inerrancy and Infallibility of", by P. D. Feinberg, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker, 1984, Ed. W. Elwell)
- Bible, Inspiration of Archived 2012-07-07 at archive.today, by Nigel M. de S. Cameron, in "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology", Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker, 1996
- Warfield, Benjamin (1948). Craig, Samuel (ed.). The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. with introduction by Cornelius Van Til (1st ed.). Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-87552-527-3. OCLC 223791198.
- Daniel B. Wallace. "My Take on Inerrancy". bible.com. Archived from the original on 20 November 2010. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- McGrath, Alister E., Christian Theology: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994; 3rd ed. 2001. p. 176.
- 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 3:2, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Samuel 23:2, Hebrews 1:1, John 10:35, John, John, Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 26.
- "God's Word, or Holy Scripture" from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article II, of Original Sin[permanent dead link]
- "the Scripture of the Holy Ghost". Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Preface, 9[permanent dead link]
- "The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord".[permanent dead link]
- See BIBLE Bible, Canon in the Christian Cyclopedia Archived December 20, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and Of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 27.
- Driver, S.R., Church Congress speech, cited in F.W. Farrar, The Bible: Its Meaning and Supremacy, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897.
- Mozley, J.K., "The Bible: Its Unity, Inspiration, and Authority", in W.R. Matthews, ed., The Christian Faith: Essays in Explanation and Defense, Harper and Bros., 1936. pp. 58-59.
- Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and Of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 27. Archived from the original on March 6, 2009.
- Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 8–10. Archived from the original on August 7, 2007.
- Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 8–9. Archived from the original on August 7, 2007.
- Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 8–11. Archived from the original on July 12, 2006.
- 2 Timothy 3:15–17, John 5:39, 17:20, Psalm 19:7-8, Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and Of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 28.
- Graebner, Augustus Lawrence (1910). Outlines Of Doctrinal Theology. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 13. Archived from the original on August 7, 2007., Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics: The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and Of Other Religious Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. p. 28.
- Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1976), p. 38.
- "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy", Article VIII
- "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy", Article X (Archive)
- Russell, J.B., Paradise Mislaid: How We Lost Heaven – and How We Can Regain It, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 14, 129.
- "When is the Bible metaphorical?". Jesus Creed.
- Dodd, C. H. The Authority of the Bible, London, 1960. p. 25.
- Griffith, M. T. Refuting the Critics: Evidences of the Book of Mormon's Authenticity. Cedar Fort, 1993, p. 129.
- New Jerusalem Bible, study edition, p. 1967, DLT 1994
- "Veritas Bible Sacred Tradition". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
- New Jerusalem Bible, p. 2010, footnote (i) DLT 1985
- Holman Bible Editorial, "If God Made the Universe, Who Made God?: 130 Arguments for Christian Faith". B&H Publishing Group, 2012, p. 51.
- Montefiore, Hugh. Credible Christianity: The Gospel in Contemporary Society, London: Mowbray, 1993; Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994. p. 5. ISBN 0-8028-3768-9
- Lyons, William John (1 July 2002). Canon and Exegesis: Canonical Praxis and the Sodom Narrative. A&C Black. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-567-40343-8.
On the relationship between the results of his work and the task of Christian theology, Wrede writes that how the 'systematic theologian gets on with its results and deals with them—that is his own affair. Like every other real science, New Testament Theology's has its goal simply in itself, and is totally indifferent to all dogma and Systematic Theology' (1973: 69).16 In the 1920s H. Gunkel would summarize the arguments against Biblical Theology in Old Testament study thus: 'The recently experienced phenomenon of biblical theology being replaced by the history of Israelite religion is to be explained from the fact that the spirit of historical investigation has now taken the place of a traditional doctrine of inspiration' (1927-31: 1090-91; as quoted by Childs 1992a: 6).
- Chryssides, George D. (2010). Christianity Today: An Introduction. Religion Today. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-84706-542-1. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- Dorrien, Garry J. (2000). The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology: Theology Without Weapons. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-664-22151-5. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
- Chellew-Hodge, Candace (24 February 2016). "Why It Is Heresy to Read the Bible Literally: An Interview with John Shelby Spong". Religion Dispatches. Retrieved 19 June 2021.
- Spong, John Shelby (16 February 2016). "Stating the Problem, Setting the Stage". Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy: A Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew's Gospel. HarperOne. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-06-236233-9.
To read the gospels properly, I now believe, requires a knowledge of Jewish culture, Jewish symbols, Jewish icons and the tradition of Jewish storytelling. It requires an understanding of what the Jews call ‘midrash.’ Only those people who were completely unaware of these things could ever have come to think that the gospels were meant to be read literally.
- James Barr, Fundamentalism pp. 72ff, SCM 1977.
- James Barr, Fundamentalism pp. 218–19 SCM 1977
- Exodus claims of the Ethical Decalogue and Ritual Decalogue that these are God's word.
- Brown, RE., The Critical Meaning of the Bible, Paulist Press, 1981.
- Uriel Simon, "Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms" chap. 1
- Alexander Ryrie, "Deliver Us From Evil", DLT 2004
- Nürnberger, K., Biblical Theology in Outline: The Vitality of the Word of God, Cluster Publications, 2004, p. 65.
- See Encyclical Letter of 1893 quoted in Schwarz, W., Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation: Some Reformation Controversies and Their Background, CUP Archive, 1955, p. 11.
- Browning, WRF, A dictionary of the Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004. Entry for virgin birth.
- Skolnik, F., Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd Edition, 2006, Volume 20, p. 540.
- Strauss, D. F. The life of Jesus, Calvin Blanchard, New York, 1860, p. 114.
- Bart D. Ehrman (2003). Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. Oxford University Press, Inc. ISBN 0-19-518249-9
- Charles Caldwell Ryrie (1981). What you should know about inerrancy. ISBN 0-8024-8785-8
- Dei Verbum Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965)
- Ethelbert W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1970.
- Gleason Archer (2001). New Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. ISBN 0-310-24146-4
- Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher (2001). The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-2338-1..
- Herzog, Ze'ev. "Deconstructing the walls of Jericho". Ha'aretz October 29, 1999. Web: Deconstructing the walls of Jericho.
- John Walvoord (1990). What We Believe: Understanding and Applying the Basics of Christian Life. ISBN 0-929239-31-8
- Kathleen C. Boone: The Bible Tells Them So: The Discourse of Protestant Fundamentalism, State Univ of New York Press 1989, ISBN 0-88706-895-2
- N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. Harper-San Francisco, 2005. ISBN 0-06-081609-0
- Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, (1999) When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties.
- Norman Geisler and William E. Nix., A General Introduction to the Bible, Moody Publishers; Rev&Expndd edition (August 1986), ISBN 0-8024-2916-5
- Norman Geisler, ed. (1980). Inerrancy. ISBN 0-310-39281-0.
- Sproul, R. C.. Hath God Said? (video series).
- Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, Manfred T. Brauch. (1996). Hard Sayings of the Bible
- Warfield, B. B. (1977 reprint). Inspiration and Authority of Bible, with a lengthy introductory essay by Cornelius Van Til. ISBN 0-8010-9586-7.
- Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels by Gary R. Habermas
- Why I Believe in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures by Dave Miller (see Farrell Till below)
- Scholarly articles on Inerrancy from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library
- Ten reasons why I believe the Bible is The Word of God by R. A. Torrey
- How Can The Bible be Authoritative? by N.T. Wright
- On the Inerrancy of Scripture by Thomas Bolin